(JTA) — The Jewish cultural center planned for in Paris is the best answer to those who think that the future of French Jews lies elsewhere, French President Francois Hollande said.
Hollande made the reference to the European Center for Judaism, which is scheduled to open in 2017 with some government funding, at a speech Monday at the Elysee Palace, where Hollande bestowed a national honor on Moshe Kantor, the president of the European Jewish Congress. The French leader also offered a possible rebuke of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s call for emigration.
“Today you are here also for the launch of the European Jewish Center,” Hollande told Kantor before promoting him from the rank of knight in France’s National Order of Merit, an honor conferred in 2012, to an officer, the second of five grades. “It’s the best answer for those who think that the future of the Jews of France is elsewhere. French Jews deserve to live here, to stay here, and to be safe and secure.”
Netanyahu repeatedly called on European and French Jews to immigrate to Israel in statements made shortly after deadly terrorist attacks on them. In February, he was accused in the European media of electioneering for saying after the slaying of a Jew in Copenhagen, “Jews are entitled to protection in any country, but we tell them that Israel is their home. We are preparing for massive aliyah from Europe.”
Hollande called Kantor, a Moscow-born Jew who is among the chief donors to the $11 million center, “an inspiring person in the Jewish world, a great figure of the Jewish people in Europe.”
Kantor thanked Hollande for actions taken to protect French Jews, including allocating tens of millions of dollars to security.
“I hope that the French government will support and even lead the appointment of a European Union special envoy as well as the creation of a task force on anti-Semitism at the European level as done so well in France,” Kantor said.
Also Monday, some 130 French Jews arrived in Israel as new immigrants, and 80 more French Jews already in Israel on tourist visas officially became citizens during a ceremony at the Jewish Agency for Israel’s headquarters in Jerusalem. Nearly 300 more French immigrants to Israel are expected to arrive by the end of the week, according to the Jewish Agency.